God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled With Pain (A Book Review)
Perhaps more ink has been spilled on the subject of God and evil than any other philosophical objection to Christianity. The question of why we suffer creates a dilemma which plagues the world in immense and incomprehensible ways and the universality of the problem means that on some level all of us have to face it. Of course, both the intellectual and emotional issues which the problem of evil creates do not affect Christianity uniquely but it’s true that they affect Christianity in a unique way. This means, naturally, that any response by Christians to the problem(s) of evil must itself be unique and unbridled in its attempt to answer the various obstacles which evil provides.
It is in this vein that the editors of God and Evil: The Case For God in a World Filled With Pain (InterVarsity Press: 2013) present readers with some excellent contributions to engage both the intellectual (and sometimes) emotional problems which suffering creates. This is no ordinary compilation of essays. The writers, including W.L. Craig, G. Habermas, P. Copan, F. Collins, J. Walls, R. D. Geivett, and many more, are among some of the leading Christian thinkers in various fields and their specific essays reflect their specialty disciplines’ attempt to wrestle through the issues in respect to evil.
The book is broken into four sections, each containing their own slew of chapters: In Part 1, the reader is introduced to the topic of evil and why it constitutes a philosophical problem, namely for God’s existence as define by classical Christian theism. The reality that evil creates a problem may seem overly obvious, but the benefit is in classification which the authors espouse. One may properly separate between the ‘logical’ problem, the ‘evidential’ problem, and the ‘gratuitous’ problem of evil. This is not to say that the three do not intertwine, but it is to say that one may more properly be able to answer such objections by understanding the unique elements of each objection. In Part 2, the reader is introduced to various theodicies and defences for why God might allow evil to exist. The four chapters which compose this section are not exhaustive in terms of the approaches philosophers could take but reflect a solid sampling of major approaches, bringing together both older thinkers and new ones (Augustine, Swinburne, Leibniz, Plantinga, etc.). In Part 3, evil is addressed along the lines of various themes like Original Sin, the silence of God, prayer, the New Atheism and others. Perhaps most interesting are Habermas’ essay on evil and the resurrection and Ganssel’s suggestion that evil is a great evidence of Christianity. Part 4 deals with the topics of Hell and Creation and how suffering relates to them. In this part, the editors are commended for including approaches here which sometimes lie in contrast with one another or are written out a priori by Christian thinkers. For example, one essay written by W. Dembski concerns evil and Intelligent Design while the next chapter, written by F. Collins and K. Gibberson, concern evil and evolution. One cannot accuse the editors of ruling one creation model out of hand when, most obviously, however creation happened must make sense of evil.
While I’ve already mentioned some benefits to the book in the brief outline, there are several more which could be brought to light: First, the book is academically minded enough to be used in the classroom as well as be accessible to the layman. The contributors have struck a delicate balance on a very delicate issue. Secondly, the book treats issues which are often unknown or ignored in the layman community. This provides a solid and understandable introduction for several issues one might face and approaches one might utilize. Third, the book is extensive enough to treat the topics with sufficiency without being too daunting or obsessive. Finally, the book’s Appendix includes the transcript for a debate between W.L. Craig and M. Tooley. As the Founder of Ratio Christi, I helped organize the debate on the UNC Charlotte campus and can testify that the book’s transcript represents an accurate—though truncated—reflection of that night’s dialogue (which was more broadly titled, “Is God Real?”) and a helpful (though perhaps more complicated) close to the book.
Unfortunately, while the book deals with various topics which are often ignored (i.e. prayer) in discussions such as this, there is one major hole which I sense is left unfilled. Since some of the book includes specifically Christian responses to the problem, one may wonder why a historical treatment of some of the Bible’s difficult passages (i.e. massacre of the Canannites) is not treated. This seems to be somewhat of a gap in the book’s otherwise excellent points, especially given its attempt to deal with the New Atheism. One must be able to grapple with whether the Christian tradition as espoused in Scripture has contributed in any justifiable or unjustifiable way to the problem.
All in all, however, Meister and Dew have collected an excellent group of essays to serve as both an introduction for the layman and some unique thoughts for the non-layman. The book will certainly become a “go-to” resource for anyone dealing with the intellectual problems of God and evil and the variety of themes which must interact with suffering. The subtitle is “A Case for God in a World Filled with Pain” and, in my opinion as a reviewer, the contributors have done just that.